Eliane Elias was born in São Paulo. And was a musical prodigy. She began learning piano at the age of 7, transcribing solos from musicians at 12 and teaching music by 15, She went on to perform with singer Toquino and poet Vinicius de Moraes during her late teens. After journeying to New York to attend the Julliard School Of Music, Elias joined up with the new jazz fusion outfit Steps Ahead. It was there she met jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker, to whom married for a time and with whom she had a daughter Amanda Elias Brecker.
As a multi talented pianist/singer/ composer/arranger, Elias has gone onto earn praise from the jazz press over the decades. The first time I ever heard about her was via a cassette she recorded when married to Randy Brecker in 1985 entitled Amanda. It would seem to have been her first album as a leader. Having it on vinyl now? Its a lot easier for me to hear the albums reconciliation of Elias’s Brazilian jazz approach with Brecker’s funk/fusion approach in their improvisations and orchestrations. And the song that really pulls this all together for me is this albums lead off number entitled “Splash”.
Danny Gottlieb’s funky drumming starts things out with Elias’s phat synth bass and Jeff Mironov’s rhythm guitar interaction. Where Will Lee’s electric bass supplies the rest of the song’s bass lines. Brecker plays a brittle melody over this before the main chorus-where Elias provides a chordally complex, flute like wordless vocal-duetting in harmony with Brecker’s trumpet. The bridge of the song features an energetic piano solo from Elias along with her synth bass. Then after a break,there’s a muted electric solo from Brecker before an extended chorus continues to the songs fade out.
“Splash” is a song that crosses a lot of different jazz bridges. Its production sonic’s are cleanly of the mid 80’s. At the same time, the actual arrangement Brecker provides from this song is a mix of jazz samba and be-bop. Same goes for the how Elias and Brecker approach their solos. At the same time, the rhythm section and electricity of the synth bass and trumpet/guitar interaction hits on thick funk/jazz grooving. At the same time, the melody takes a cue from the Miles Davis/Dizzy Gillespie school of “something you can hum”. So “Splash” hits its bop/funk/Latin jazz hybrid in all the right places.
Al Jarreau’s first three albums,including one amazing live set the previous year all earned him a lot of critical acclaim. At the same time Al seemed to be seeking the same sort of commercial success he had overseas in his own country. Somehow it seemed that succeeding in jazz in American meant succeeding mainly with writers and critics. Which may have a little to do with why so many fans of the music began leaving it behind. So the best compromise for Al, who had no intention of abandoning his home grown vocal and writing talent,was through the sounds of soul and funk music.
The songs were flexible enough to allow for a lot of uncut jazz influence. But were,at least during the 70’s anyway also able to offer the possibility of American radio play and chart success. Al Jarreau wasn’t the only one taking this route. And as we all know the writers and critics had a field day of negativity with the idea. But creatively it wasn’t unsound and helped create at least a couple sub genres of music along the way: fusion and later smooth jazz. But what does this say for Al himself? Happily to my ears, this is one of the finest overall records Al Jarreau made in the 70’s.
Part of it is he’s still very much in his early and more jazz oriented phase. But he’s bringing somewhat more of a pop flavor into it too. “Thinkin’ About It Too” and “Wait A Little While” are sprightly uptempo pop/funk tunes-filled with somewhat abstract bass synthesizers,strong melodies and guess what? That vocal is still Al Jarreau being every bit himself. On “I’m Home” and “I Do” he’s back in his mainstay 70’s element: spare, electric piano based jazzy ballads that emphasize his style of vocalese. “Brite N’ Sunny Babe” and “All” both bring this bassy, mid tempo EWF/Charles Stepney style production.
Within this high level of musical joy, there’s also a version of the sad Lennon/McCartney pop standard “She’s Leaving Home”. I don’t know why people don’t seem to like it. Al, doing his own harmonies same as McCartney on the original, sings the song with just the right amount of shock,regret and disappointment the lyrics require.On the more abstract of interpretations is the closing “Sittin On The Dock Of The Bay”. Done up in this startlingly unique stop and start funk-jazz arrangement Al completely re-harmonizes the song almost all in the minor chords.
For an album intended as something with more crossover potential compared to his earlier recordings, its very much in line with those albums for many reasons. All Fly Home’s primary focus is still on self written vocal numbers- based primarily in jazz. And any influences of pop, R&B, funk or anything else in the music really never takes away from the main focus. This is probably one of his most successful albums in terms of his crossover period in that regard. If there are contemporary elements strongly at work here, you can tell Al Jarreau and his band are still firmly in control.
Nina Simone had a very strong 1967 in the recording studio. She began the year with her Nina Simone Sings the Blues album. And then released this album during the Summer Of Love. It featured the same basic musicians as the previous album with Eric Gale and Bernard Purdie. However her musical priorities were somewhat different here. She was not putting quite the same emphasis on her own self written material here. Not only that but she wasn’t laying her heart and soul bare with a sense of instrumental grit and passion.
Realizing that old adage of those who won’t hear an angry shout straining to here a whisper, Nina put another side of herself on display with this time. One she was very adept at,but very much in contrast to what had come before. More over this is an album defined more by highlights than an overall concept. “It Be That Way Sometime” starts off the album with a strangely melodically steady brassy soul number,full of orchestration and horns. “Go To Hell” and “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free” again find her questioning in fine piano based gospel/soul spirit her own desires and necessity.
Those necessary desires ranged from injustice to redemption. On interpretations on “Cherish” and “The Look Of Love”,she dives headlong into her unique range for for two versions of these songs that are very vocally individual in terms of how he projects them. “Some Say” finds her returning to the deeply horn based soul that began the album. “Turning Point” is actually a favorite of mine-basically a show tune telling the story of how children are taught racial hatred. Her one original here “Consummation” is an all out show stopper,a theatrically orchestrated and sung number.
Her one original song here “Consummation” is a theatrically orchestrated and sung number-with Nina holding some very loud notes that go into the nature of human consciousness itself. More musically diverse and positioned for crossover attention than her previous release of the year, this album showcases how Nina’s talents had the potential to be very outreaching. At the same time often too individual to crossover to everybody. One would tend to either be reached intimately by her music or not. Since her music tends to have the latter effect on people, its probably a moot point in the end.
Michael Henderson is right up alongside Larry Graham in terms of cracker jack bass player/composers with his baritone singing voices. As a Detroit native,he was most influenced by Motown Funk Brother (and bass guitar icon) James Jamerson. Jamerson played a lot of jazzy riffs-especially backing up Stevie Wonder. So it made sense that Henderson,a pioneer fusion jazz bassist,would bring his own bass complexity to Wonder’s music in the late 60’s/early 70’s along with session work for Marvin Gaye,Aretha Franklin, The Dramatics and Dr. By then,Henderson was moving further into his jazz chops.
Henderson transitioned from a soul session player into a jazz one during the early/mid 70’s. Working with drummer/talent scout Norman Connors and jazz pioneer Miles Davis found Henderson helping both artists transition into a soul and funk based approach-especially with Miles’ On The Corner in 1972 and Connors You Are Starship in 1976. That same year Henderson inked a solo deal with Buddah records. His solo debut Solid is a masterpiece of his multiple talent-with its strongly funky title song. For me,another song that pulls together Henderson’s talents on the album is “Let Love Enter”.
Muruga Booker’s conga drum roll and percussion introduces the the song. It features the acoustic piano,Henderson’s bass and the ongoing percussion playing a funky variation of the Brazilian samba rhythm. The melody of it all,as illustrated by Henderson’s scaling voice and lyricism,is based in Brazilian jazz with it’s major and minor chord changes. A straight up percussion part bridges the similarly themed refrain and choruses together. On the bridge,trumpeter Marcus Belgrave delivers a succinct accompanying horn solo as Henderson’s backup singers improvise the melody with him to the songs fade out.
This song reveals itself as having taken a lot of influence from both Norman Connors and Miles Davis. Most of the playing has Miles and Norman’s light musical touch. It also celebrates that Brazilian flavor that Stevie Wonder often had. What bridges these influences is that jazzy funk/soul attitude. It has a strong,melodic groove to it, and its not a simple song either. The chord progressions can be sung and hummed. Yet they offer a lot of challenge for musicians and vocalists who wish to do so. As such,its something of a defining musical moment for Michael Henderson from the beginning of his solo years.
Filed under 1970's, Brazilian Jazz, Funk Bass, jazz funk, Marcus Belgrave, Michael Henderson, Miles Davis, Muruga Booker, Norman Connors, percussion, piano, samba funk, session musicians, Stevie Wonder, trumpet, vocal jazz
For this weeks posting,I wanted to play a little jazz for everyone. Considering this blog was started with the intention of projecting modern songs in the entire jazz,soul,funk,R&B,blues and pop spectrum? I’ve neglected going too deep into jazz because the critical medium of that musical genre has a tendency to take itself much more seriously than perhaps other levels of critical assessment. Yet there was something about this artist and this song that was right up my alley in terms of actually writing about it.
Lorraine Feather,herself the daughter of famous NYC jazz critic Leonard Feather. Her mother Jane was a big band singer in the trio Full Swing. After studying musical theater acting in LA,Lorraine returned to New York to pursue that career. Eventually landing nigh club gigs between numerous waitress jobs. After a successful career doing songs for films by Disney among others? She began her recording career in the year 2000. And nine years later released her sixth solo album Language,which includes the song that’s the subject of today’s post in “We Appreciate Your Patience”.
Instrumentally the song is is a very stripped down mid-tempo bluesy number. That with drummer Gregg Field and percussion Michael Shapiro actually providing a slow,loping and rhythmically well accented hip-hop/jazz swinging shuffle to the music itself. This is accompanied by the melodic participating of pianist/co-writer Shelly Berg,bassist Michael Valerio with Spanish tinged acoustic guitar from Grant Geissman. On the bridge Field’s dreamy brushing is accompanied by Berg scaling back and forth similarly on piano-taking a solo before returning to the main theme that the song fades out on.
The best thing thing about this song for me is how it updates the traditions of vocal jazz. It takes on the dragging shuffle of the hip-hop beat for sure. But also focuses on Feathers embracing of the witty cultural references in vocal jazz lyricism. The concept of dealing with calling customer service lines over the phone is a thoroughly modern frustration. Feather illustrates this with her own singular wit and mildly dry,yet harmless sarcasm about being put on hold while listening to “some music from the 80s”,as well as being directed to said company’s website as the preferred means of contact. In the end,it appears she develops a crush on one particular rep. Both musically and lyrically? This is one contemporary acoustic vocal jazz number that is right on time.
Filed under 2008, Blues, customer service, Grant Geissman, Greg Field, hip-hop/jazz, humor, Jazz, Leonard Feather, Lorraine Feather, Los Angeles, lyrics, Michael Shapiro, Michael Valerio, New York, Shelly Berg, vocal jazz